Technocracy Ascendant: Central Banking and Ideology after 2008
Adopting a Gramscian view of the current era as one of organic crisis and intellectual and ideological disorientation among the ruling classes, this thesis explores the changing forms and ideological dimensions of technocratic economic governance following the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007–2009 and into the Covid-19 era. I focus on the major central banks of the capitalist core and pursue two main lines of investigation: (1) theorizing the evolving role and expanding power of central banks within the post-GFC context of organic crisis; and (2) providing case studies of intellectual and ideological disorientation and attempted reorientation in central banking. The thesis introduction lays out my research problematic and my theoretical and conceptual framework. Chapter 1 critically examines the institutional character and strategic orientations of today’s formally independent central banks, building a nuanced reading of these organizations as public–private governors that operate as power centres of finance capital. Chapter 2 considers the political-economic terrain in which these power centres of finance capital have intervened since 2007, providing a comparative review of the literature on the proximate and structural causes of the GFC, the related Eurozone Crisis of 2009–2015, and the Covid-19-induced financial panic of March/April 2020. Focusing on the Federal Reserve System (Fed) and the European Central Bank (ECB) as illustrative case studies, chapter 3 traces out the development and implementation of novel forms of emergency liquidity support over this crisis period. Here, I delineate the rise of the ‘derisking’ (Gabor 2020) central bank and argue that it is a core component of ‘authoritarian neoliberalism’ as a form of governance. Chapters 4 and 5 turn to examine how central bankers have responded to the repoliticization of ‘the economy’ and its management in the decade following the GFC. I develop an original conception of central bankers as organic intellectuals of finance capital—technical specialists and political operatives who produce authoritative interpretations of how monetary and financial systems work and how they should be managed. Chapter 4 examines a large body of speeches from high-ranking officials at the Fed and the ECB from 2009–2020. Focusing on how they frame and seek to make sense of the repoliticization of the economy and their place in it, I delineate and critically interrogate three core ideological narratives: (1) a climate of fear, (2) authoritarian neoliberalism, and (3) stakeholder capitalism. Chapter 5 extends this analysis by critically examining the intellectual reorientation of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) following the GFC. I trace out the unique economic imaginary of what I call Global Balance-Sheet Capitalism that has developed at the BIS over this period and critically examine how the bank has sought to deploy this imaginary in defence of financial globalization as a political project. A short concluding chapter considers some of the implications of this research for contemporary socialist politics.